RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW
The Circus Has Left Town

The Dolomites are dead.

You never really expected the Dolomites to stick around.

In their earliest, squeakiest suburban-basement days, they channeled young Shane MacGowan. The Green Room banned them for lying about their ages. In their all-conquering, genre-spanning party-band dominion, they shared the stage with Shane MacGowan. The Roseland banned them for stealing the Popes' liquor. In the theatrical, klezmer-addled 2002 model, they channeled young Tom Waits. Satyricon banned them for setting the bar--and the bartender--on fire.

In the end, there just weren't many clubs left that would let them through the door.

A few weeks ago, Dante's, ever tolerant of fire and drunkenness, hosted the final performance of the Dolomites. Probably. As drapes and eyebrows smoldered, as the band staggered to the finish line with grace and passion and weird artistry, the madding crowds imagined it all a new beginning. Continual reinvention has that effect.

Steven Iancu, last of the founding members and spiritual leader, switched coasts two days after the concert, off to Boston to lend accordion and violin to the Reverend Glasseye's apocalyptic merry-go-round. As he transformed an Irish punk combo into gypsy carnival delirium, Iancu became an accomplished, captivating, thoroughly hypnotic showman, a shamanic huckster of vibrant, wild-eyed, thoroughly entrancing cartoon mayhem.

Medicine Show, the Dolomites' new and apparently last album, anchors the orchestrated chaos of their live performances to stellar production. Mention of Tom Waits--the Island-era Tom Waits, that is--can't really be avoided. But the Dolos' earliest work imagined Pogues songs better than anything the Pogues managed in 10 years--while lunching at Kells during his last tour through Portland, a confused MacGowan heard a Dolomites song on the stereo and asked if he'd sung on that track. Likewise, Medicine Show propels Waits' carnival-barker persona through free jazz and tweaked sincerity.

The limited-edition Medicine Show video, filmed throughout earlier tours, is all a little tamer than you'd expect. Last season's 50-some-gig cross-country jaunt, and the accompanying pyro-busking and van-airplane warfare, remains legend in some circles. But the energy, the abandon and reflexive skill of their live show peek through road-weary interviews and (relatively) constrained concerts. The credits roll along to a frenetic rendition of the Muppet Show theme in a Vegas hotel room--moments before their eviction, probably. If Ornette Coleman had been a young Portlander with Celtic tendencies leading a combo including Gonzo and Animal, it would sound about the same.

The last set at Dante's--and, I guess, the baffling career of the Dolomites--ended with longtime fans climbing on stage with the supporting acts (an elderly minstrel, two pirate bands). An extended, shambling rendition of one of their earliest and best numbers, "One More Bottle", unfolded amid many hugs. Again, you never really expected the Dolomites to linger. But if they had, what would they have sounded like in 20 years? (Jay Horton)

PREVIEW / INTERVIEW
Scorched ALIVE!
Alt-country legend Jason Ringenberg leaves his band in the dust.

Jason Ringenberg and his Scorchers lit the fuse for alt-country in the mid-'80s, then seemed to show up again whenever the scene needed a taste of the spurs. Now, just to keep the agricultural metaphors going, the Scorchers have been put out to pasture. Ringenberg's taken their legacy to the road in support of All Over Creation, a witty and raging album recorded with guests from Steve Earle to Tommy Womack.

Willamette Week: You're on tour as a solo performer for the first time. How's the rocker feel about going it alone?

Jason Ringenberg: Well, at first I found it quite terrifying to go out there on my own. But I came to love it pretty quick, because I can be spontaneous in this format, and just cut loose. When I decided to go out solo, I realized my guitar playing was going to have to get much better, as quickly as possible. And I've definitely learned things. I don't think I'm a great guitarist, but I've learned how to use it to support myself as a singer.

Your first solo record had a traditional Nashville studio approach, and your second was a quiet, folkie album. How was it, on your new album, actually rocking out with people who aren't the Scorchers?

I had a ball recording those rock songs. In fact they were some of the most over-the-top rock-and-roll experiences of my life. Going to England to record with the Wildhearts--I mean, I get to the studio from the airport, 1 in the afternoon, these guys are already plastered out of their minds, and they've got three tracks recorded. They really live the lifestyle. We did a version of "Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel" that was like an explosion. (Jeff Rosenberg)

Jason Ringenberg plays Sunday, Feb. 23, at Dante's, 1 SW 3rd Ave., 226-6630. 9 pm. $6. 21+.

MUSIC! SORT OF!
HISS and VINEGAR

THE WHITE MAN CAUSES ROOTS RE-SKED

Portland hip-hop fans will have to wait until April 19 to dig the in-flesh rendition of the Roots' haught new album, Phrenology. The Philly phirst-fam of live progressive beats scrubbed its scheduled show this week at the Roseland Theater after a last-minute summons to perform at the Grammys. Interestingly, the Rs will apparently do their thing on national tube in collaboration with whelplike paleface Eminem. Hey, man, when Eminem calls, who can say no? Tics sold this time around will be honored when the Roots finally work us into their busy schedule.

REGIME CHANGE AT OLCC

Oregon Liquor Control Commission exec director Pam Erickson announced last week that she's stepping aside after seven years at the helm of the widely beloved booze regulator. At press time, the five-member commission was set to name an interim replacement and launch a search for a permanent new Pam. Which means that if any of y'all out there have any...ideas, or anything, about the direction a new commander should/could take OLCC, it might be time to weigh in. The number's in the book, kids.

INTERPOL: MORE THAN A DODGY COIF?

After a shaky gig at the Blackbird in September, overdressed indie darlings Interpol returned to Portland on Valentine's Day with months of constant touring under their belts. Thanks to a heaping helping of buzz and occasional appearances on CBS's NFL Today show (seriously), the black-clad Berbati's Pan crowd packed in early and was aquiver with anticipation. But with their success, Interpol has traded some of their cool for renown, bringing the hipster quotient way down from previous shows. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to you. The night began with Calla, whose emotional, haunted-house shoegazer tunes got an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. Then the main attraction. Looking like Flock of Seagulls' spoiled-brat nephews, the band took the stage and proved that its grueling tour schedule has paid off by playing a tight, energetic set. They may have personal stylists, and they may sound like the Joy Division Fan Club at times, but Interpol showed enough musical ability to make you forget about their haircuts.

IN OTHER CAUCASIAN MUSIC NEWS

Strictly in the interest of furthering the "special relationship," H&V enjoys checking up on the latest about our cousins across the pond. England 1, Australia 3--what's up with that? Anyway...last week, a BBC item sent us into a paralytic fit of nostalgia for the days when the USA had its own hack musician for a leader. Seems Tony Blair (who performs under the stage name "The Prime Minister," clearly biting Pete Nice) took time off from articulating George W.'s thoughts in grammatical English to "jam" on guitar with a troupe of school kids. According to the Beeb, the PM knocked out a credible 12-bar blues, a throwback to his college daze in a band called the Ugly Rumo(u)rs. Maybe we should settle this Iraq thing with a Crossroads-style showdown, Blair versus Saddam, with Tariq Aziz on drums, Dick Cheney in the role of Satan, and Jacques Chirac and Gerhardt Schroeder locked in a sexy juke-joint pelvis grind. Huh?

Please help replace items like the one above. hiss@wweek.com.